Written by Faith.
Mambo vipi everybody! It’s been a while! I have no idea what everyone else has written, but this update is gonna be pretty specific.
You may remember that in the first post I wrote, I mentioned a baby that came to the clinic and was really malnourished with a ruptured sore on his foot. Actually, I may remember that too. Or do I? I’m not sure at this point. What is time? Anyways. Once upon a time a really long time ago I went to the Amani clinic/hospital for the first time and an older woman had brought a ten-month-old baby that looked like a 3-month-old baby in because of an open wound covering his entire foot. The wound was (allegedly) a ruptured sore, and his other foot and his hands were looking like they might rupture too, and there were some spots on his body that were looking like the skin might break soon as well. You could see every bone in his body and his neck looked like it was a small twig trying to hold up a big rock. Basically, when someone is malnourished, they have a protein deficiency that throws off the concentration of solutes in the blood, which starts to cause it to collect in the peripheries. Also, protein deficiency means weak skin. Also, interestingly, when a baby is malnourished their fontanel sinks in and their skull bones don’t start to form properly. So. I watched my friends (M & C) clean the wound and listened as they talked about how the baby’s mother had run off in April or May, leaving the baby with his grandmother, and that he hadn’t been eating the porridge she had been trying to feed him. He was so weak that as they poured hydrogen peroxide over the exposed tendons of his foot all the sound he could muster up was like a soft wheeze. It seemed to us to be a pretty distinct possibility that they had visited a shaman who had cut open the foot to drain it or something, because normally skin won’t just burst like that on its own. We had a hard time understanding the reasons behind why he wasn’t eating. Was his grandmother just not feeding him? Was he dealing with depression because of his mother abandoning him?
Over the next few weeks the baby was brought to the clinic by his grandmother almost every day to get his dressing changed. We researched a malnutrition recovery diet and educated his grandmother on how to feed him a mixture of milk, oil and sugar. Teams even visited his house to deliver the oil and sugar and mix it with milk, but as the weeks went by, we got frustrated as we realized that he wasn’t gaining weight. It seemed that despite the education and apparent dedication of his grandmother, something was happening to the oil and sugar and/or the grandmother was consistently failing to get the milk. His wound was healing slowly if at all.
On Monday afternoon, we were at the clinic and the baby and his grandmother were there, and seeing him barely any different than the first day I saw him a month ago, I had a thought that was not a thought I had first or for the first time, because several people on the team had mentioned it before: why couldn’t we just take over his care for a while until he got stronger? With a team full of nurses and doctors, particularly females--now that kid would never miss a feeding! I’d been afraid to voice the thought before, but that day I just opened my mouth and spit it out to some of the folks in charge. And much to my surprise, they both stopped to think. Then, they both said it wasn’t a bad idea. After some discussion, we decided to propose to the grandmother that we take care of him at the hospital as an in-patient for a week, and she come and stay the nights and bring milk. She went for it.
So. For the last four days, all us wazungu girls have been carrying around a very small little boy in kangas (cloths), feeding him "super milk", making cloth diapers, and getting a lot of stares and questions. We’ve also been discussing a lot of our own questions. First of all, who really makes a baby eat? We thought for sure that he would slurp everything up he could get from us, but the very first day we hit a wall. He drank a few sips and then quit. As the afternoon wore on, I think that one by one we realized the very real truth that God alone can heal. God alone could give that kid an appetite. So we prayed. And prayed and prayed. And as we humbled ourselves, we really saw his hunger come back. Now, I’m pretty sure every time he swallows we let out sighs of praise and relief. He seems to be getting stronger, more alert, his foot is healing, and he’s started a new thing today of yelling his head off every time he sees some kind of food being consumed that is out of his reach. However, we can’t seem to get him to smile. He’s ridiculously stoic. Haha. We’ll crack him eventually. It’s been super fun to learn to carry a baby like an African and to take mama shifts. That kid may end up with a leg up on English or in need of some serious counseling due to the trauma of white-woman overload at such a young age. We’ve given him the name Joshua in addition to his Kouria name because Joshua was a man that was "so strong in the Lord", in the words of our doctor friend at the clinic.
Why did this situation come up? Why are there animals and fields and piles of food everywhere, and yet babies are starving? Why would his mother run away? Why did his grandmother bring him to the clinic for a wound but not seem to understand that the root of his problems is chronic malnutrition? What will happen when we all leave in a few weeks and what would have happened if we hadn’t been here? It’s so frustrating to know that people here could think we have some kind of magic to heal, or that we have inexhaustible resources, when the truth is that we just have compassion for a baby who can’t fight for himself. What’s the underlying difference in our value system and this culture’s value system? Why? Could the presence of the church make a difference? What would happen to a malnourished baby in the US? What happens to other people who can’t really fight for themselves, here and in the US? If we’re upset that the church isn’t stepping in to face issues like this here, is the church at home doing any better? Are we willing to show up at people’s houses and help them in the day-to-day things, in the ways that really make a difference long term?
We’ve been talking about those questions a lot, with each other, and even with people that live in Ntgatcha. Last week some of our students visited one of the local churches to challenge and encourage them to find the places of need in their own community and step in. We returned there just tonight--bringing Joshua--and he was an awesome tangible example of a place of need. I’d like to encourage anyone who’s reading this at home to think about it too. I’m starting to see the Church in a really different light…I’m starting to wonder why at home we expect the government to do so many things that seem so impossible without the gospel.
P.S.A shout out to my friends who have already gone back to the US – I miss you terribly and wish you were here not just for taking care of Joshua and seeing him heal but to constantly warn me about dreadful illnesses I could get from going barefoot and to play music on the porch and worship and pray together. I’m praying for y’all's return to school to be smooth and for you to remember all God’s faithfulness. Seriously. I miss you.
A shout out to my pals at home– I barely shower anymore, I was given a chicken that I’m planning to slaughter and cook in the next few days, Swahili is frying my brain, I did some laundry by the spring today, I’m planning to make you chapati as soon as I get home, and I’m extremely grateful for how God is answering prayers and blessing me with an absolutely incredible and ever-increasing Family here. He’s trying to teach me to SEEK HIM FIRST and to relax; that only one thing is necessary.
Nakupenda, kaka na dada. Peace be with you, I’ll catch you later!